Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shamdeo Persaud

News about the coronavirus has been trending in recent months, and with good reason too. The coronavirus, which has been classified by the World Health Organisation [WHO] as COVID-19, is said to be a novel strain which was first reported in Wuhan, China last December.
There have been thousands of deaths linked to the virus there and its impact has been spilling over to other countries.

Guyana has thus far reported no case of the virus and in order to maintain this status as far as possible, the local Ministry of Public Health has activated a tactical plan. This is according to Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shamdeo Persaud, when he appeared on Kaieteur Radio’s [99.1, 99.5 FM] programme, Your Health Matters.
“We always have a contingency plan, a national influenza preparedness and response plan [and] that has the basic elements…,” said Dr. Persaud.
He revealed that the main focus is on the country’s points of entry – the two main airports, seaports, the Moleson Creek crossing and the Lethem crossing.
Even as consideration is given to the possibility of persons using other gateways, Dr. Persaud spoke of an increase of strategically placed port health officers.
“We have beefed that up with some additional medexes; we have a doctor at the Cheddi Jagan [Int’l Airport], along with three medexes and they are screening all the persons who Immigration flags,” said Dr. Persaud.
According to the CMO too, “Our point of contact would be anyone who has travelled to China within the last 21 days. We have extended even for persons coming from that region.
“A lot of times persons may go through, because of travel routes and airlines and so on, Korea or Japan or to Singapore; there are varying ways, so we track those also.”
These passengers are required to undergo health checks, including a temperature check. A detailed questionnaire is completed with them as a means of acquiring necessary information about their travels.
Thus far, there have been about 53 persons who were flagged and screened upon entry, Dr. Persaud said.
Testing for the virus can be done at the National Reference Lab and supported by the Caribbean Public Health Agency.
“So far, of the 53, we have had four, including a child, who wasn’t well. [For] those persons, we sent out medical teams directly to their homes wherever possible…,” said Dr. Persaud who assured that their symptoms were eventually ruled out as coronavirus.
He added, “We had one person who was admitted to a private hospital and was screened and eventually the diagnosis was urinary tract infection.”
During January, for the celebration of the Chinese New Year, a number of persons left Guyana for China. Some of these persons, Dr. Persaud said, have been returning. “[China] has a procedure of screening them for 14 days prior to leaving and even when they come back here, we are putting them on a further 14 days…We are really erring excessively on the side of caution.”
Manifesting with flu-like symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath, the coronavirus can spread from person to person much like a cold. But in addition to using specified face mask, Dr. Persaud said persons can help safeguard themselves by being hygienic.
By simply washing your hands could be a start “to reduce this going from one person to another…That is key to us staying healthy in Guyana.”
The system that the Ministry is working with is one whereby “if we do have a suspect, that is, someone who has travelled…presenting with sign and symptoms, there are two areas, one at Diamond and one at Georgetown [Public] Hospital that were prepared for isolation.
There is also a small unit at Moleson Creek with two beds that we can actually hold someone until we are able to move them. At the Cheddi Jagan Airport, they have given us additional space,” related the CMO who has requested that all hospitals, regional and private, identify isolation spaces.
Speaking of the virus, Dr. Persaud noted that although the virus can be found in various strains, it is in fact not new.
“We might even have a couple of strains that are not disease causing…They occur in animals and things like that. So coronavirus is not uncommon, globally,” said Dr. Persaud.
In defining the current strain of the virus [COVID-19], WHO was able to ascertain that it is a particularly aggressive strain that may have originated in a ‘wet market’.
“WHO has been working with China to put all of the information together,” said Dr Persaud. “So far, we know from the EPI Centre in Wuhan, China, several persons were infected and later on more countries across the world have already seen imported cases mainly, and a few instances of local transmission.”
As he appealed to the nation to not panic by news of the virus, the CMO made it pellucid, “Other than the US, only Canada, with nine cases, has confirmed coronavirus in the Americas. So far, none in South America, Central America or the Caribbean has confirmed any case.”
Regarding the global situation, Dr. Persaud revealed that WHO has been providing daily updates of cases and as at Monday, there were 78,800 reported.
“You might see in US media and so on a different figure reported but this is officially what they have. China has confirmed 77,042 and of those 2,445 deaths. This is since they have officially started to count. Outside of China itself, there are 1,769 cases in 28 countries and 17 deaths in all reported,” the CMO shared.
Isolated cases have been reported across the Arab World and Europe but outside of China, where it originated, Dr. Persaud said that the figures show high rates of coronavirus infection in a few other countries including: Republic of Korea – 602 cases, Japan – 132 cases, Thailand and the United States -35 cases each, and Italy with 77.
Given the growing number of cases in these countries, Dr. Persaud said, “That is where a lot of the attention is now and they have been linking it to persons who came back and mingled with communities.”

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